California death row case before Supreme Court today

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A Supreme Court case today deals with whether a California death row inmate can fire his attorney for inattention to his case.

Can a death row prisoner fire his attorney for lack of attention to his case? That’s the issue before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, and the case involves a murder in Orange County.

A court sentenced Kenneth Clair to death more than two decades ago for the sexual assault, beating and strangulation of babysitter Linda Faye Rodgers. He filed numerous appeals and finally asked for a new lawyer. Clair told the judge that a private investigator had uncovered new crime scene evidence, but that his current lawyer didn’t try to obtain it, analyze it or present it to the court.

Loyola Law School’s Laurie Levenson says the law is unclear on standards for hiring and firing defense lawyers in these situations. "As long as counsel is not what we call 'ineffective,' and even if they’re ineffective, as long as it is not prejudicial, it’s 'good enough'.”

Levenson adds that few lawyers want to tackle capital cases.

"So if you set the bar too high, you might very well end up with no lawyers at all and of course without the lawyers, you’re not going to end up with the executions and that’s what’s kind of what’s happening in California anyway," Levenson said.

More than 700 inmates await execution on California’s death row.

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